- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

OCEAN CITY — Low unemployment. High property values. Thousands more jobs coming because of military realignment.

Things are looking good for Maryland, but growth is a major worry for local officials trying to plan for it.

At an annual gathering of Maryland counties this week, many of the study sessions relate to growth. How to protect wetlands. Where to put parks. Why Maryland may be running out of water and how that affects home development.

“Growth issues are in each of your communities. Your towns are feeling a lot of growth pressure,” said Kendl Philbrick, head of the state Department of the Environment.

Mr. Philbrick yesterday led a primer on a new state law regulating how cities and counties plan for growth.

The law — which was enacted this year after a great deal of wrangling over who should decide where new homes and businesses can be built — requires town officials to do a better job thinking about water and sewage before approving new developments.

The result of the law, which takes effect in 2009, could be more wrinkles for local officials thinking about where to put new residents.

“Growth is the big concern we have to wrestle with,” Charles County Commissioner Allan R. Smith said.

Mr. Smith, a Republican who is running for commission president, said growth is a main topic of debate among voters.

“Everybody wants to have robust economic growth, but you’ve got to slow down population growth so you don’t have overcrowded schools, stressed roads and water and sewer,” Mr. Smith said.

The question of growth is especially pressing for local officials this year.

Maryland received about 6,500 new jobs through military restructuring announced last year. The state could get 1.1 million new residents in the next 25 years, said Robert Summers of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

“We’re already bumping up against the limit of some of our water supplies,” Mr. Summers told local officials.

Some local planners who study growth worry that problems are imminent.

In Worcester County, for example, the average home value is $330,000, outside the reach of many in the work force, said Edward Tudor, director of the county’s Development Review and Permitting office.

“There’s a lot of discussion” about finding a solution to spiraling home costs, he said. “But I don’t see a lot moving. The land’s getting so expensive and valuable for developers in Maryland. And I don’t see it changing without some kind of mandate.”

Even a farming session turned to growth.

State agriculture workers talked about changes to let farmers sell food cooked in their homes — a tool to make them more profit and keep them from selling to developers.

The conference, a traditional favorite for aspiring politicians, had an election-year flavor, but growth dilemmas also generated plenty of discussion.

“When I was growing up, people said, ‘Wasn’t it great we were going to grow and prosper,’” said Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, a Republican who grew up in Carroll. “Now, it’s here and we have to deal with it.”

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